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Miniature Code Retreat

I was so excited with the idea of Code Retreat invented by Corey Haines, that I pushed for conducting a miniature version it (with just two sessions of pair-programming) at Dev Camp Chennai, 2011.

My Goal of conducting a Mini Code Retreat
  • First and foremost, my agenda was to market the Global Code Retreat that is to happen on the December 3rd of 2011. 
  • There are very few corporates that follow TDD, pairing and "refactoring". If folks who can participate in the session, get a good hang of and appreciations for it all, then they would well become agents to market the experience of good practices.
  • Its been a long while since I facilitated. I personally wanted to see where I stand in facilitation and see what I derive out of this session as a facilitator.

What I did to achieve my goals
  • Dev Camp was a good crowd puller and I wanted to use that occassion to ensure that I give people the taste of what really Code Retreat is all about. Soon after my welcome address, I did a quick poll of how many know of the Code Retreat event that is to happen two weeks from now and then gave an introduction to Code Retreat (early marketing). 
  • Kept reading different blog posts etc sharing the code-retreat conduct and facilitation experience, lessons etc.
  • Not many folks had a laptop with them in the DevCamp. This was really unfortunate. Made an announcement that only folks with laptop have a entry pass, to the code retreat event. This sort of disappointed the really interested few, some of whom approached me post my introduction. Touched by the enthusiasm, I had arranged for three laptops with the required things setup.
  • In the very beginning, I decided to pair-up with someone who is very earnest and equally passionate as much as I was. And I did pair-up with my friend and fellow comrade Ponnulingam, who did all the work that is required to ensure that the laptops are all set-up with necessary SDKs, IDEs, base project set-up with a unit-testing framework.
  • At the start of the code retreat session , we set the ground rules, the dos and the don'ts. 
  • Gave the classical Mars Rover problem of ThoughtWorks Recruitment to attendees. I choose this problem (with the due permissions from the Recruitment team's lead, Manish), over anything else because the problem is very straightforward. This gives the coders a good opportunity to focus on the ground rules, pair-programming experience, TDD approach and stuff, instead of being distracted to spend endless time discussing the problem statement. Though honestly, I realized they were trying to the same until I was parroting the mantra a few times to stop discussing too much of details, and start coding ASAP after the first 3 minutes. In 5 minutes time, every one started coding.
  • Swap pairs after every round.
  • Conduct of retrospective at the end of the session helped folks to learn from others goodness/mistakes. It gave them a renewed sense of energy and interest.

  • In just two session, it was nice to hear from folks who experienced the joy of TDD (test first/driven development).
  • Everyone but for just a single pair weren't comfortable pairing in every session. Interestingly enough, the pairs that reported this were entirely different. I realized in in both these occassions, one of them took things very personally by their stride, and also that they broke the very basic ground-rule of deleting the older coded (the pair that had written the code hung to it and was trying to enforce the further development on the existing code). I wish, I had caught this while I was moving from pair to pair to check on what they do - good and bad, by the time I reached this pair I was only thinking that they had progressed that far.
  • As pair facilitators, we decided to rope in another pair to help us out in facilitation, and that really helped. I believe understanding the maturity/skills level of coders is very very important for better facilitation. If the majority find the terms - TDD, pair-programming, refactoring - very new but something that they have heard of and are extremely curious to know it all in one gulp, you need more folks who could get them settled quickly.
  • Many felt that they were better able to understand the problem statement as result of pairing.
  • There were a few who felt that while at the very beginning they were not so comfortable pairing with experience programmers, became very confident by the end of the session as result of picking up skills from their experienced peer and practice it in their presence while pairing.
  • Most of them felt pairing increased their productivity, because they weren't lost in their thoughts and thinking out loud with their pair benefitted them clearly.
  • Folks left the room with a sense of enlightened joy, saying they would come again to experience the learning again at Code Retreat.
  • In second round, good half of the coders became self-disciplined to TDD. I find this interesting.
  • We concluded the Code Retreat with a retrospective, in which we asked people to provide anonymous feedback on their experience of the Code Retreat session in entirity. We split the board into three pies - "What went well?", "What didn't go well", "Puzzles". Once everyone left, my curius eyes went to the Not-well section and found just TWO single-worded sticky(s) with "nothing" scribed in it. Not sure if they meant, there was nothing that didn't go well or that they have gained nothing which isn't well. I read it as the later.
Feedback Received
Pictures of the Code Retreat session can be seen here.